The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine
Series: Ravenspire #1
Published by Balzer & Bray on February 16th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance
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Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.
In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.
But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m all for fairytale retellings, and The Shadow Queen was all that a fairytale should be! A fantasy story with magic and dragons. You can sign me up for that anytime.
I think what I loved most about The Shadow Queen was that while it was gory and hard at times it also had that classic fairytale feeling to it. Like most fairytales, the story was brutal and choices were made that had to be made. There were plenty of plot twists and turns that I didn’t see coming (and frankly… I’m quite good at figuring out plot twists before they happen).
The protagonist, Lorelei, is calculated and kickass. I like how she’s a planner and has carefully got herself to a point of challenging the antagonist. Together with her brother Leo and Gabriel, who sort of became a father figure to them, they form a great team and have a great dynamic going. Trow a recently crowned king and his entourage into the mix and you got what I deem a recipe for a solid story. Kol is a Draconia, which means he can shapeshift into a dragon (COOL!) and he meets Lorelei early on without knowing who she is which causes plenty of problems for the both of them later on.
Although it is quite obvious early on who is going to end up with whom, I love that there was no instalove to be found. They slowly get to know each other (and themselves) and their relationship slowly blooms into something more. The fact that they’re both trying to save their respective kingdoms give them that something important in common that is the beginning of so much awesomeness.
Even more awesome is the fact that the antagonist isn’t just a villain for the sake of needing a villain in the story. Irina actually has a lot of depth and I enjoyed the chapters from her perspective as they provided an insight behind her motivations. She’s very well-written and a part of me actually felt for her as her past was filled with pain. Her narrative was confusing, but this only added to the whole vibe she had going on.
The Shadow Queen might not be the most impressive fairytale retelling, but it was a VERY enjoyable read and a solid read. In fact, I love how Lorelei and Kol’s story got resolved within this story. It was a fun book, with tons of great fantasy elements and very enjoyable characters! If you, like me, love fairytale retellings I suggest you give this one a go.
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
Published by Balzer & Bray on April 18th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance
Source: the Publisher
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From Katie Cotugno, bestselling author of 99 Days, comes Fireworks—about a girl who is competing with her best friend to become the new pop star of the moment—and all the drama and romance that comes with it—set in Orlando during the late-'90s boy-and-girl-band craze.
It was always meant to be Olivia. She was the talented one, the one who had been training to be a star her whole life. Her best friend, Dana, was the level-headed one, always on the sidelines, cheering her best friend along.
But everything changes when Dana tags along with Olivia to Orlando for the weekend, where superproducer Guy Monroe is holding auditions for a new singing group, and Dana is discovered too. Dana, who’s never sung more than Olivia’s backup. Dana, who wasn’t even looking for fame. Next thing she knows, she and Olivia are training to be pop stars, and Dana is falling for Alex, the earnest, endlessly talented boy who’s destined to be the next big thing.
It should be a dream come true, but as the days of grueling practice and constant competition take their toll, things between Olivia and Dana start to shift . . . and there’s only room at the top for one girl. For Olivia, it’s her chance at her dream. For Dana, it’s a chance to escape a future that seems to be closing in on her. And for these lifelong best friends, it’s the adventure of a lifetime—if they can make it through.
Set in evocative 1990s Orlando, New York Times bestselling author Katie Cotugno’s Fireworks brings to life the complexity of friendship, the excitement of first love, and the feeling of being on the verge of greatness.
Fireworks was and wasn’t what I was expecting. Cryptic sentence to open with, I know, but bear with me. Sometimes you just don’t know if the book you’re reading is going to knock your socks off or turn out not to be your thing at all, and such was the case with Fireworks.
So I’m talking about not knowing what I was going to get, but also that this book was and wasn’t what I expected it to be… That’s confusing. Let me break it down for you. What did I expect? I expected clichés. I mean, being discovered as a pop star, fame, a love interest that is destined to be the next big thing, it all screamed cliché to me. Not just cliché, but cliché in a big, bold, flashing neon sign kinda way. And I gotta admit those clichés were present in Fireworks. What didn’t I expect? For Katie Cotugno to work them so flawlessly into the story that I didn’t mind them at all. They were there, but they weren’t the most important aspects of the story.
Friendship and self-discovery were two of the most important aspects in Fireworks. I loved the protagonist, Dana. She was the kind of friend, had the kind of loyalty to her friends, that you can only admire and respect. Especially because as the story progressed it became clearer and clearer that her best friend, Olivia, was holding her back. Dana had to figure out for herself what she wanted to do with her life and she underwent a big transformation throughout the story.
If anything made Fireworks for me, combined with all things I mentioned before, it was that ending. I love how Katie Cotugno blew away all my preconceived notions of how I expected Fireworks to end in a cliché. That ending was anything but cliché and it was the cherry on top of a very enjoyable story.
If you’re looking for a fun and enjoyable contemporary read with a solid message attached, Fireworks is the answer. It’s a very well-written story with a sweet romance that you won’t be able to resist!
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Series: The Crown's Game
Published by Balzer & Bray on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Source: the Publisher
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Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.
And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.
And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love... or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear... the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.
MORE RUSSIAN INSPIRED FANTASY! YAY! I think that was my very first reaction when I heard about The Crown’s Game. It is no secret that I am a huge lover of the Grisha-verse and one of the main reasons I love it so much has a lot to do with the amazingly intriguing setting. So I was most definitely down for any book set in Russia! And boy, this book did not disappoint!
First things first, The Crown’s Game wasn’t what I thought it would be! Which actually didn’t turn out to be a bad thing (yay!), I just had to adjust a bit. When I read the synopsis of the book I pictured glorious battles, fighting, stuff blowing up (aka violent things) and that’s definitely not what The Crown’s Game turned out to be. It became clear pretty early on that it was all about “impressing the Tsar with epic magic skills” rather then bloody fights. This made that the story moved quite slow, and not as fast paced as I expected it to be. However, I didn’t find myself minding it as much as I thought I would’ve.
It was a fun read, because it wasn’t as stressful as a story full of fights would’ve been. Instead it all felt quite magical to me. The Crown’s Game is super atmospheric, with amazing world-building! I don’t know too much about 1825 Russia, but Evelyn Skye definitely did her homework! She intricately weaved history into her story, which made it so very beautiful to read. The setting is so incredibly detailed and written beautifully!
The plot, or rather The Crown’s Game itself, was unpredictable to me. Even though it wasn’t really fast paced, the course of the game thrilled me and kept me on the edge of my seat.
The friendship between Nikolai and Pasha was top-notch. One of my favorite things about The Crown’s Game without a doubt! I love a well-fleshed out friendship in my books, and I got just that from Nikolai and Pasha’s friendship. View Spoiler » It kinda sucks a girl kinda comes between that, but hey, we’ll let that slide fot the story’s sake « Hide Spoiler.
I’m not too sure about the romance though. There’s a love-triangle… which I actually didn’t actually mind it that much. But there was just something a bit off about the romance. It felt a bit underdeveloped to me, as did the characters. Both the romance and the characters could’ve used a little more complexity in my opinion. I think this is what kept me from fully connecting with the characters .
All and all I think The Crown’s Game made for a really solid debut and first instalment in a VERY promising series! Beautiful writing and aboslutely mind-numbingly awesome world-building and SO MUCH MAGIC! I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story will progress and mature in the books to come!
As I am a part of Harper Collin’s The Crown’s Game blog tour I am including a little something extra in this review: a playlist inspired by the book! I handpicked 10 songs that reminded me of certain moments in the story, hope you enjoy!
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on September 15th 2015
Source: the Publisher
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Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.
Dumplin’ is a pretty damn enjoyable read! It’s really different from other contemporaries I’ve read lately, which made it such a refreshing book to read. The story and its characters are all so realistic and down-to-earth, then there’s a fair share of Dolly Parton wisdom, and of course Dumplin’ carries a great message about self-acceptance, about how you shouldn’t let fear, other people’s negativity, or a low self-esteem stop you from living your life. I mean, doesn’t that sound like the recipe for an incredible contemporary read?
An endless supply of amazing characters
Most lovable thing about Dumplin’ was the endless amount of amazing characters. I don’t mean that in the way that they’re perfect, the opposite really, they’re as flawed as any of us are, but they have SO MUCH depth! They have so many layers to them, and slowly they all get pulled back for the reader and we’re given a peek at the person beneath all those layers. I could relate to the main character, Willowdean, a lot. I think almost any girl can relate to her insecurities, but she also rubbed me the wrong way quite a few times. She’s bold, brave, no-nonsense, and (most of the time) doesn’t give a shit what other people think of her.
Julie Murphy explores the relationships between characters amazingly
I think the supporting characters might’ve been my absolute favorite part of this book. They were interesting, had depth, and each of them were unique in their own way. I like how Julie Murphy played with the relationships between Willowdean and her best friend, and especially Willowdean and her mother (whom I didn’t like too much). She really explored their relationships and it was interesting to read about how they these grew.
Dumplin’ has a romance with bumps along the way
What I liked most about the romance was that it was real, not some smooth and happy romance that has no bumps along the way, there were lots of bumps along the way and this made it realistic! And the way Willowdean approaches and describes her first time of falling in love was beautiful, endearing, and flat-out hilarious at times.
Dumplin’ is a fun and original contemporary read that leaves you with some interesting food for thought. The ending is a bittersweet and heartwarming: it’s realistic, it’s fun, and will leave you feeling ALL THE FEELS. I’ll definitely recommend this one to all the contemporary lovers out there!
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Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
Series: Snow Like Ashes #1
Published by Balzer & Bray on October 14th 2014
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.
Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.
Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.
So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.
❄Even blizzards start with a Snowflake❄
Snow Like Ashes was good. Actually, that’s a major understatement, it was more than good. I’ve been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it, which was a pretty damn long time ago. Then it was suddenly October and I was so busy that I didn’t have time to read it. So now, almost a month after release date, I finally get to write about this much anticipated read. This awesome book that turned out to be pretty much everything I wanted it to be.
The world building was pretty damn epic. Sara Raasch created a world that is incredibly creative and original. The beginning of the book was a bit confusing. You get lots of information thrown at you all at once, there are EIGHT kingdoms to keep track of… Which means politics and alliances and everything else that comes with wartime. There were some Whoah, Lets’s rewind moments for me. Once I got past that, there was nothing in the way of falling in love with the the story.
Another thing I loved: the magical aspect. The ‘magic’ starts making appearances about halfway into the book and I really hope there’ll be more about the history of magic in the following books. It was original, kinda unique, and pretty damn cool! I loved what I learned about it in the first book, and it was hinted that there was quite some history behind it, which I can’t wait to learn more about.
Meira was a great main character. She was rebellious and fierce (don’t we all love a little rebellion), and she developed a lot over the course of the story. She felt real and her actions and decisions felt real, which made it easy to relate to her. I was rooting for her throughout the entire story (read: yelling for her to kick-ass). She was pretty damn awesome.
There was a love-triangle. Surprise: I didn’t mind it at all. Both guys were likable, and Meira’s confusion about her feelings was understandable. It wasn’t just another overdose of teenage hormones: both guys have depth and the attraction didn’t feel forced. What I am trying to say is: it felt genuine. Which probably is the reason that I had zero problem with it. What I liked even more was that it fell away pretty fast (and what we’re left with is great!). I definitely have my favourite though: sweet, awesome, adorable Theron View Spoiler » and lucky for me, things seemed to be going in favour for him (plus, I think Meira and Mather kinda grew apart) « Hide Spoiler.
The only thing that was a bit disappointing (and keeps me from giving Snow Like Ashes the full 5 star rating) is the predictability of the story. I figured out the ‘big plot reveal’ pretty early on. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I did love the ending, everything came together perfectly, but I just wasn’t surprised by the final plot twist.
Snow Like Ashes was a great and solid fantasy read. The world Sara Raasch created was creative, original, and very vivid. I loved the book and boy am I anxiously awaiting the sequel!